The Erosion Control Research and Training Center was originally created under a research project administered by the Illinois Center for Transportation (ICT), with in-kind contributions from the Illinois Land Improvement Contractor's Association (ILICA). ICT is an innovative partnership between the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the University of Illinois. Professor Imad L. Al-Qadi of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department serves as director of ICT. ICT administers IDOT's contract research program, which is funded using IDOT's federal State Planning and Research funds.
Prasanta Kalita, an agricultural engineer with ABE, was a co-investigator for the project, along with Niels Svendsen and Heidi Howard of the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) of the Army Corps of Engineers. The team has received continued funding from IDOT for additional studies.
An earthen berm 300 feet long and 13 feet high is the focal point of the facility, located on ABE's research farm south of the Urbana campus. The berm's slope is three-to-one on the front side and two-to-one on the back side. There are three ditches with check dams at the base of the berm that drain into a small pond. One purpose of the site is to evaluate products used for erosion and sediment control.
"IDOT and other agencies are major partners on erosion and sediment control products, and they need to know which products are the most durable, which do the best job, and what the best management practices are," said Kalita.
To that end, two graduate students, Joseph Monical and Carlos Bulnes, are working on a variety of projects such as evaluating vegetation cover, studying erosion control blankets, and sediment control check dams.
Monical, a Ph.D. student, said, "We started a vegetation demonstration study about 18 months ago where we looked at different types of vegetation cover—compost, mulch, and hydro-mulch —on slope seed conditions. We also had an uncovered control plot. Now we are expanding that study to compare those to erosion control blankets to see how each reduces erosion and sediment run-off that occurs under natural conditions."
Bulnes, a master's student, has developed a protocol to test different types of check dams by subjecting them to a sequence of different flows, then taking sediment samples and suspended samples before and after the check dams.
"We've installed two ditch inlets in one of the channels," said Monical, "so we're also evaluating different types of inlet protection practices and products that IDOT contractors currently use." Monical said there are plans to install a flared-end inlet for study and evaluation, and they will be working with IDOT to look at curb and gutter inlet protection at the Pesotum rest area on I-57.
Monical is the teaching assistant for a class Kalita teaches (ABE 456), and undergraduate students in that class have been working with them to develop inlet testing protocols for the different inlet studies and doing a literature review.
Kalita said IDOT, ILICA, and other agencies will also use the facility to train their engineers and technicians to install effective erosion control practices and develop storm-water management plans. Training programs were developed under the original ICT research project funded by IDOT.
"We have developed one class and are working on two more classes to provide this training," said Kalita. "The first class is our 'fundamentals' of erosion and sediment control practices. We initially offered the class and opened it to 50 people, but the demand was so great we expanded it to 65, and there was still a waiting list. So it has been tested, and it was very popular."
Professionals from several different organizations (federal, state, county, local, and private) have attended the class. The class on fundamentals will be offered six more times, between May and October in 2012.
The second class focuses on design, and the third on installation, maintenance, and inspection. These classes will be offered beginning in January 2013. Participants will be required to complete the first class in fundamentals before enrolling in the second or third class.
Kalita said IDOT is currently drafting a policy that will require this training for engineering consultants and contractors who work with the agency. Specific requirements for training will vary according to the guidelines, and the training will be current for a period of five years. The policy is tentatively scheduled for implementation on January 1, 2015.
"I have been working with a very talented group of IDOT professionals who provide regular guidance and feedback on the facility as well as the training programs," said Kalita. "Thomas Ripka of IDOT is the chair of the technical review committee that has helped shape this training facility and helped in the development of classes. This project is a great example of professionals from diverse backgrounds working together for a common cause.
"I think this is a tremendous facility not only for the university, but for the whole state of Illinois," he concluded. "It is an excellent example of the university's mission of research, teaching, and outreach."